AMES — I considered it a solid plan.
Covering No. 4 ISU’s game against woeful Arkansas-Pine Bluff, I thought, would be filled with so many alley-oop dunks and high-flying Cyclone antics, that I’d end up dispensing with a game story.
Instead I’d break down the emphatic slams, add some video and shake things up a bit after an odd 5 p.m. Sunday tip.
The outmanned but gutsy Golden Lions thwarted not only my keyboard-based intentions, but they dissected ISU’s suddenly sieve-like defense, too.
Lay-up upon lay-up. One slam after another. Yes, 2-8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff — a team ISU’s Dec. 22 road opponent, Cincinnati, thumped by 49 points — lit up the highlight reel more than the 9-0 Cyclones, who nonetheless managed to record a 78-64 win before a paid crowd of 14,284.
“We didn’t really play well today,” said ISU big man Jameel McKay, who scored a game-high 18 points. “We lacked energy for whatever reason. A win’s a win, you can’t really get mad at a win. … We’re just going to take this win and forget about it.”
He and many others.
ISU played without Naz Mitrou-Long, who sat out to rest his sore hips.
Cyclones coach Steve Prohm called that decision “a one-game thing,” which should allow his senior leader to gain steam health-wise in advance of Saturday’s Big Four Classic matchup with Northern Iowa.
“He’s really not where he wants to be physically right now,” said Prohm, whose team did shoot 50 percent from 3-point range (12 of 24) against the Golden Eagles’ array of zone defenses. “And we thought we could get through this game, hopefully, without him.”
That they did, but not in the manner I, nor Prohm, nor the fans in Hilton Coliseum’s stands expected.
“I didn’t think this game was going to be perfect today,” Prohm said. “Just kind of been through it, been through the ringer a little bit. I didn’t think it would be 78-64 to be honest, but it was, and there’s a lot of factors into it.”
Spotty defense, for one.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff shot 46 percent from the field and consistently beat ISU on back-door cuts.
“Like Jameel said, we just didn’t come out with any type of effort,” said the Cyclones’ Matt Thomas, who started in Mitrou-Long’s absence and drilled five 3-pointers while scoring 17 points. “Obviously we had a big win Thursday night (over arch-rival Iowa) but that’s no excuse. Paid no attention to detail. We were getting back cut the entire game. Uncharacteristic turnovers, but like coach said, we won the day and we’ve just got to move on from here.”
Sure, ISU was bound to descend to earth from the sky-high elation that Thursday’s breathless comeback win over the Hawkeyes created. Still, Sunday surprised me. Heck, it surprised everybody. KenPom.com had pegged the Cyclones a 28-point favorite. Las Vegas declined to produce a betting line.
But, as McKay said, "a win’s a win." ISU still pushed its streak of wins over non conference foes of Hilton to 33 games and one uneven effort shouldn’t take the shine off a strong start to the season.
Oh, and a true buzzworthy play did finally occur with 5:07 left. Thomas — who was stellar for the second straight game — scooped up a turnover, rifled an outlet to double-double machine Monté Morris, who then skillfully gift-wrapped a resounding lob-slam for McKay.
It was electric. It stood out. That’s surprising.
But 9-0 offers further proof that these Cyclones are good, maybe great, even. So no need to panic. Clunkers happen. At every school and at any time. It just happened to be ISU’s turn on Sunday night before the (coincidentally) smallest actual crowd of the season.
“You never devalue winning, man,” Prohm said. “We won the day, we won the game, we’ll learn from it.”
Morris recorded his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 assists. … Hallice Cooke scored a season high-tying 11 points off the bench, including 3 of 5 accuracy from deep. … With Mitrou-Long out, the Cyclones went with a six-man rotation until the final minute. … ISU will get deeper for Saturday’s 6 p.m. clash with the Panthers. Intriguing and athletic 6-4 junior combo Deonte Burton becomes eligible after sitting out the first nine games, per NCAA rules.